ARC Review – What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

20922826Title:  What We Saw

Author: Aaron Hartzler

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis:  Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.

But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question: Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?

Huge thank you to Harper Teen/Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

River’s Review:

This book scared me. It gave me chills and after I finished it I had a nightmare about it. It’s THAT good. And that raw. Rape culture scares the shit out of me and as an adult, knowing that teens are dealing with this shit, and getting away with it, scares me even more.

I read Courtney Summers All the Rage a few months ago and that book made me so furious at the world. This book made me sick with the world. If you liked ATR pick this up in September.

Hartzler’s writing is solid and his truths are frightening. Kate, our narrator, goes to a party and gets wasted. Her and pretty much half the junior class from her school. A popular basketball player holds the party and everyone shows up. Kate wakes up the following day and can’t remember much about the party. She remembers her crush, a long time childhood friend, drove her home. Her best friend sends her a drunk photo of herself and Kate makes her delete it. There’s a ton of shit floating around on twitter and facebook with some questionable hashtags, one, #r&p, a mystery.

In the following days the popular basketball players are arrested for sexual assault and child pornography. Everyone in their small midwestern town rally’s behind the boys because they come from good families, get good grades, and THEY’RE STAR BASKETBALL PLAYERS. Nobody believes that the girl, Stacey, was actually hurt. They brush her off as being a slut, “asking for it”, and crying wolf after regretting hooking up with the guys. The way that Stacey and her claims are brushed off sickens me. And the reaction from not only the students, but the adults, was terrifying. The teens immediately start to slander Stacey online, tweeting some of the most horrific things I’ve ever read in a book. And the school principal and the basketball team coach start to cover it up. Kate’s parents make offhanded comments about how it might not be true and hopefully it’s just “a misunderstanding”. Kate’s dad tells her to stay out of it and keep her head down. Townspeople can’t believe that “That Stacey girl” is going to ruin the lives of boys who have their whole lives ahead of themselves. The basketball player girlfriends rally behind the boys, and Ben, Kate’s crush turned new boyfriend, is hiding something.

Kate feels like this is all wrong though. Her group of friends is divided: one girl is religious and thinks that if you “follow the rules” then you wont get raped. And Stacey was obviously not following the rules because she was drunk, wearing a short skirt, and was generally from a bad part of town. Another girl thinks that it’s just “boys being boys”. Thankfully Kate has one friend who thinks that what happened to Stacey was wrong and that the worship the boys are receiving is also wrong. The two start to ask questions and eventually uncover a video from that night that is horrific. And tells more of the story than anyone ever knew.

Stacey wasn’t just raped. She was brutally assaulted. And at one point Stacey says that she learned what happened to herself by looking online.

And that frightened me.

I loved that there were some good adults. The guidance counselor takes Kate seriously. The science teacher opens up a discussion on what to do BESIDES rape. The reporter who was trying to just get the truth despite the roadblocks she faced as people tried to cover up what had really happened.

I think one of the saddest things thought is the aftermath when Kate comes forward with what she knows and what she saw. The way that she becomes a pariah for telling the truth, for revealing what a horrific crime had gone down, is just mind-boggling.

This book took my breath away and made me think a lot. I hope that this book is well received because it is powerful and needed.

Sam’s Review:

What We Saw was a book that nearly made me vomit. I’m not joking when I say that. It’s a book that focuses on issues of sexual assault and rape culture, and it’s a powerful read on that front. Aaron Hartzler presents a story of what happens when we don’t necessary know all the details of an event, and how easily lines can be blurred by guilty parties.

I loved how seedy a lot of this story felt. Other than Kate, our heroine, no one in the story felt trustworthy, every character had their own version of the event in question, and lots of red flags were constantly being raised as I read the novel. I admit, I called the plot twist in terms of one character’s involvement, but I loved the way in which Hartzler doesn’t make this character’s actions as obvious or in your face compared to others.

If I’m being frank, I really loved the way Kate is portrayed in the story. She’s inquisitive, constantly trying to put all the pieces to together even though parts of them don’t necessarily add up. I appreciate how she recognizes her own mistakes in her involvement and attempts to atone for her wrong doing, even if Stacey can’t actually forgive her. I liked that they were friends before all this, and I appreciated the way in which their backstory is woven into the narrative — it felt very genuine and sincere.

On one hand, I wish the author had made Stacey feel like more of a character. I understand why this technique was employed in the novel, but part of me wishes I knew her more and understood her a lot better. However, I also feel that the use of distance enhanced her in a lot of ways — I may not have known her personality, but boy do you learn how others saw her, and the results are not pretty. In fact, a lot of the social media maliciousness is stuff I know I’ve dealt with personally in my games journalism career. That creepy, malicious behaviour made me sick to my stomach, tying it in knots simply because what they were calling this poor girl was so hateful and disgusting. I found myself screaming “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” meanwhile realizing that likely parents wouldn’t know it’s their children acting as the bullies and perpetrators.

I think what upset me the most was how it’s the victims fault. Like All the Rage by Courtney Summers, this idea of the victim being at fault is such a sick mentality, one that just makes you want to slap some people and make them understand how wrong and unacceptable this behaviour truly is. What We Saw is one of those books that will make you uncomfortable and make you question your own abilities to potential help someone in need. It reminds us how often people turn a blind eye or choose to blatantly ignore issues within society. This book will make your stomach crawl and turn, but it also will give you a rather informed look at what is really the issue in rape culture.


One thought on “ARC Review – What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

  1. citygirlscapes

    YES! Yes. I’ve read so many great reviews of this book, but this is the first one I’ve read after I finished the book myself and I’m just so happy to be able to share all these feels with everyone. I am so glad this book is getting a lot of attention. – ashley


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